E.J. Dionne suggests,
So what's the path of integrity for one-time McCain fans in the center and on the left? It would be to base our judgments on the extent to which the rebellious McCain we admired has given way to the McCain who is as conservative as he always said he was - even if many liberals (and, for different reasons, many conservatives) didn't want to believe him.Is there a need for a special "path of integrity"? I don't think that a Democrat who would have preferred McCain to Bush in 2000, or again in 2004, to note, "I thought he would be better than G.W. Bush, but that doesn't mean I think he's better than anybody." Or to observe, "He has done some good things, and to me that puts him head and shoulders above the other Republicans who he defeated in the primaries, but I now have to compare him to the Democratic nominee."
What gives me the most pause about McCain? His retreat from his own historic positions without regard for whether he is followng a "path of integrity". The positions where I found him historically most impressive, such as fiscal conservativism, willingness to stand up to intolerance? When he decided to run for President again, they were the first to go. Where he is the most consistent as a "conservative", it seems, is when he advocates against abortion rights or flag burning. To the extent that it is even fair to call it "conservative," that platform doesn't inspire me.
Meanwhile, Richard Cohen is telling us that McCain could win based on the one issue where he has been consistent - to maintain the Iraq War as a war without end.
John McCain lacks Nixon's raw talent for hypocrisy, so I don't think he'll go that far. But he will make his stand on the surge, and it will be, for him, the functional equivalent of Nixon's secret plan. His plan, McCain will say, is to win. The Democrats' is to surrender, he will say. The issue, if he frames it right, will not be the wisdom of the war but how to get out with pride.But that's not what's going to happen, is it? The Democrats will be asking, "How do we get out with pride, while maintaining stability in the region," and McCain will be arguing, "Get out? Why would we ever want to do that?"
McCain, of course, owns the surge. He advocated putting additional troops in Iraq way back when President Bush, deep in denial, was proclaiming ultimate faith in Rummy and his merry band of incompetents.McCain only "owns" the surge because the mainstream media lets him. Why doesn't he own the entire war? ("Only the most deluded of us could doubt the necessity of this war.") Why doesn't he "own" the catastrophically bad plan that he endorsed, up to the date it should have been obvious to a sack of hammers that more troops were needed? McCain argued,
Many critics suggest that disarming Iraq through regime change would not result in an improved peace. There are risks in this endeavor, to be sure. But no one can plausibly argue that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein will not significantly improve the stability of the region and the security of American interests and values.That argument was being plausibly made at the time. It proved correct. But Mr. "Straight Talk" - Mr. "National Security" - wasn't listening. And McCain's enduring embrace of Chalabi is evocative of Bush's deep stare into Putin's eyes - how wrong can you be?
So when Cohen gushes, "McCain, in fact, oozes national security", the question is legitimately raised, why are so many in the mainstream media unwilling to point out that, on the whole, McCain's judgment on the war has been terrible? (And what else is there?)